cait +tiff

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T / happy monday / mix it up

Photo Credit: Martha Holmes (one of my fave lady photogs) for LIFE Magazine, 1946

Photo Credit: Martha Holmes (one of my fave lady photogs) for LIFE Magazine, 1946

Good morning from Canada!!!! It’s still the evening here. And I’m actually writing this at 638am EST on Sunday morning (mostly because I’ve been up since 4am). It’s a good 0°C and not 1000F (because that just sounds so much more drastic).  And it feels so good to be back.

I’m also feeling mighty itchy to get out.  I was an overactive child and probably still am at 30. After a 15 hour packed flight from Hong Kong (I managed to score an aisle seat!), a very late arrival and my body not at all acclimated to the new time zone yet, I need to get some of that extra energy out (and pass out shortly after).  Whether it’s the jogging around rivers and lakes, the Traveling WOD, or visiting a new Crossfit “box” (I’m really excited to drop into Academy of Lions), I need something to relieve me of that nervous energy, and to deal with how much I plan on eating this trip.  So when I’m home, I’ve got my eye on barre.

Have you heard of barre? I guess you can figure out it has to do with ballet. But the thing is, you don’t need any history with dance (I surely don’t have any).  Barre combines core conditioning, muscle sculpting, cardio and deep conditioning all with the elements that keep dancers lean, long and strong.  That means five minute plank holds mixed with weighted squats and the like. I like going to Barreworks on Queen Street West (at Bathurst) when I’m in Toronto. The sunny studios, perfectly sized classes and great beats offer a nice respite from deadlifts. pull-ups and sore traps. They also have a great new client special with two weeks of unlimited classes for only $40 (CAD).  Here’s a little primer!

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T / one crazy saturday

headerSometimes it creeps up on you.  You hardly hear it coming.  It’s a freaking crazy Saturday.  It’s so packed, you feel the need to document it all (or most of it at least – you don’t need to see me eating fried chicken).  Particularly because you have your hands on a sweet ass lens that your photo sensei placed in your hands for a morning of overhead squats and muscle shots. And more so when you discover that soap making with a thickly accented Korean man can actually be the best thing since soap itself (and that says a lot).

OHS-GridIt all started with the Crossfit Open.  For those of us who drank the Kool-Aid, it’s the best way to start off the weekend.  That’s right, 30-odd sweaty nutballs squatting, pulling themselves over bars and cheering each other out over at Crossfit Amatak.  For me though, I was so inspired by the gorgeous (lady) muscles out there.  So I might have gone a little shutter crazy on that. And let there be a GIF.07---01---Mary-Muscle-Pull-Up

Very shortly (and just a few blocks) after the sweat fest, Cait and I went and did the complete opposite.

Lee Byoung-Hee began making soap as a response to his wife’s sensitive skin and the lack of appropriate cleansing products in Phnom Penh.  He now has sourced the best ingredients and sells his wares in the Russian Market (near the Bodia stall), but also teaches soap making from his very own home!  Our wonderful friend Caroline organized a group of amazing women (and us messy art lovers) to learn how it all gets done and to make some crazy designs of our own; and boy did we make some fun little soap bombs (and annoy our instructor with our colour choices).

Tools-of-the-Trade-Grid Butterfly-Grid Soap-GridLessons start from $40 and prices may vary according to group size. For more information, email Mr. Lee here.

All photos by Tiffany Tsang. Please request permission for use.


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T / happy monday / paleo(-ish) round up

Photo Credit (from left): Top Row: The New Potato, Nom Nom Paleo, Danielle Levy, Middle Row: Nom Nom Paleo, Danielle Levy, Camille Styles, My Heart Beets, Paleo Porn

Photo Credit (from left): Top Row: The New Potato, Nom Nom Paleo, Danielle Levy, Middle Row: Nom Nom Paleo, Danielle Levy, Camille Styles, Bottom Row: My Heart Beets, Paleo Porn

I was hoping to wish you a good morning but this post comes a little later because Cait and I met this morning for an awesome blog re-design and branding sesh!  Thanks to the ladies at A Beautiful Mess and their Blog Design Love course, we’re starting to think seriously (though not that seriously) about our long term ideas and some things we want to improve about this little site.  We’re so excited to start rolling out little adjustments and big things over the next few months.  We hope you stick around to check them out.

But getting to this actual post…So my 30 days of refined carbohydrate and bad food abstinence are up.  That’s right.  I didn’t eat a single almond croissant for an entire month.  That’s pretty much the only thing I legitimately gave up because I can assure you that bread and pasta made occasional appearances, though only when I absolute couldn’t resist (have you seen these pancakes?).  Wine too (wine’s just fermented grapes, isn’t it?).  I may have also licked the spoon after this session with Cait’s dulce de leche. So yes, I treated myself. I adapted. I cheated.  But I never felt the need to go overboard.

Attending four to five WODs at Amatak on a weekly basis wasn’t the only easy thing about this month.  The community of 30 odd peeps in it with me definitely made things easier.  The commitment to eating real food also turned out to be one of the simplest goals to achieve.  Getting rid of pasta turned out to be perfectly painless.  I bought a spiralizer to turn my zucchini, carrots and daikon into noodles that were the perfect vector for any sauce. Fresh vegetables are so freaking plentiful in this wonderful green place I live, so a quick run to the local market fixed things.  And food blogs.  There are so many to throw ideas at you.  A few of my favourites are down below.

And 30 days later, I feel many many times healthier.  So I only lost 1kg and 1% of my body fat.  That’s fine. I know there’s a lot of muscle in there now.  Most importantly, I lost that unfortunate spare tire (thanks Mike and Jenny!) and I feel oh so much happier in general.  Those hypoglycemic lows and annoying feelings of post-meal bloat are gone. I feel lighter and less bogged down from the food I eat.  And I’m committed to real food.  Fresh vegetables, good meat. It requires a bit of thought and planning, but I’m absolutely willing.

Eating real food is such an easy way to start living a healthier life compared to other diets.  This article from the New Yorker explains what exactly is up with gluten-free. And a strict paleo diet is pretty much only for our neanderthal brethren…or our kin who decide to live off the grid (not to be mistaken with lumbersexuals).  We should all just eat real instead. And James Hamblin, that doc who writes for The Atlantic and looks like he just turned legal, gives a great intro to it with our beloved Mark Bittman. Enjoy!

My favourite real food recipe blogs and recipes!

Real Food Cambodia

My Heart Beets

Nom Nom Paleo


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T / grown up costume party

green-adornmentExpats do some funny things.  One such expat tradition is the Khmer costumed photoshoot.  Some expats will take that to another level.  This past Saturday afternoon, a bunch of curious Khmers and tourists alike found themselves wondering what a bunch of such expats (representing eight different countries) were doing dressed up in traditional Cambodian outfits, trying to deadlift a tuk tuk.

door-greetingsWe’re always looking for something fun, slightly wild, and really off-our-rockers to do in the city.  So a bunch of my friends at Crossfit Amatak got together last weekend to play adult dress up for a photoshoot under the guise of building a slightly delayed calendar for Corbett’s new gym.  There was so much giddy excitement for this.  That is, until the men realized how long hair and make up would take for the ladies.  This time was filled in by getting them to pumping iron in full Khmer regalia.

eyebrows-and-eyelashes  crimpinghair hair hairThree hours later, we were on our way.  With several layers of caked on foundation, powder, newly drawn on eyebrows, glued on eyelashes, crimping, straightening, hair pieces, bobby pins and tying up our traditional sampot chang kben and sampot tep apsara.  I don’t think any of us have ever had any time on the beauty pageant circuit.  This pretty much helped us realize we had chosen the right career path.

pinkselfie-stick-and-pullupsSo while the photos aren’t quite ready yet (what to do with the grey backdrop of a Crossfit box?!), I wanted to share some of the backstage photos of the general tiara-ed hilarity that went on this past weekend.  It was so incredibly fun to see a generally sweaty and morning droopy bunch get all gussied up.  I can’t wait for holiday card season to start up again. tuk-tuk

All (but the last) photos by Tiffany Tsang. Please request permission for use.


C + T / Kettlebell Café

headerKettlebell Café is now open for business (well sort of, they’re still in their soft opening phase)! Located just next to the Crossfit Amatak gym on the corner of 454/123, Kettlebell Café offers coffee, a juice bar, and healthy breakfast and lunch options. We spoke with Corbett and Olivier last week about the café and how small businesses like this are changing the landscape of Phnom Penh.

corbett-and-olivierCorbett worked as a barista for about 8 years. He calls these “the lost years,” but we think of it as “coffee-snob legitimacy training.” Having worked in the food service, he didn’t come to Cambodia to cook. Corbett landed here because of a podcast, obviously. After teaching English in Korea and living in Japan for a few years, he listened to an episode of This American Life that focused on Cambodia. He decided he would go to graduate school and get a job in Phnom Penh, and that is exactly what he did. (Side note: Corbett was Cait’s first new friend in Cambodia, they landed on the same day.)

After three years working at 17Triggers (a local company that does marketing for good causes), and working on his side businesses in his free time, he has decided to put all of his effort into Amatak and Kettlebell Café.

His interest in health and fitness is nothing new, but he has never been “one of those super fitness people.” Phnom Penh does not lack for restaurants, but it has been missing a healthy, balanced lunch spot. Most options are either filling and fatty or stingy and skinny. “One cannot live on salad alone, or one may chew one’s arm off.” Plato said that, or maybe it was Cait one time when she was hangry…In any case, the goal for the café is balance. The paleo-inspired menu is both healthy and delicious, while keeping reasonable prices and fast service.

coffee---finalTheir coffee is equally delicious.  Although a skilled former barista himself, Corbett sought the help of regional coffee consultant, Jen Green to help source equipment, beans and train staff to produce some fine liquid heaven. As a result, some are known to get their required dose here every morning in the form of a cortado (eg. Tiff).  To make things healthy, though Corbett prefers real dairy himself, almond milk is also offered for the lactose-deterring.

“I don’t know how many times I’ve been to (local coffee shop) and have been the only person in line just to get an espresso and its taken 5 minutes and they give you your water and everything before hand and it’s like “just give me my coffee so I can go.” So we wanted to fill that gap by providing high quality coffee. At a good speed and fair price. No flash.”

Corbett met Olivier, Kettlebell’s chef, when Olivier joined Crossfit in September. He had already been following a Paleo diet, so he was familiar with the ingredients and restrictions. (Though his weakness lies in French pastry, especially the mille feuille. He is, after all, human.) Olivier is from Paris, and he was trained as a chef and worked in some top restaurants serving very French cuisine. He has worked with some of the best restaurants in France, but his family is Cambodian, and he moved here two years ago to be with them.

While in Paris, he also worked for Air France Catering, so he has serious portioning skills. Most of his flavours come from his French influence, and he works with local products to create healthy, delicious, French-ish food, just without the bread and butter. The daily rotating menu keeps things interesting.

“The idea is that we don’t want people to come just once a week, but because the menu is constantly changing, they feel fine coming two or three times a week and enjoy the ‘what do we have today?’ atmosphere; which is also quite different, there aren’t too many places that do that.”


foodgridCambodia is an easy place to set up a business. It’s possible to take risks and be more creative here because there is less to lose and it’s easier to recover. Amatak is the first Crossfit gym in Cambodia, and Kettlebell is the first healthy café of its kind.

 “You can afford to fail here.”

The neighborhood is ripe for change and after these guys moved in, it now really is where the cool kids hang out. For a few years there has been a growing expat community in the neighborhood, but a serious lack of coffee and lunch options. With the opening of new places in the area, “People are keeping their money in the neighborhood for their weekday activities rather than going to BKK or riverside.”

kettlebell2This change has also prompted a pedestrian culture in the area. For those of you that do not live in Phnom Penh, sidewalks here are mostly used to store large vehicles, small vehicles, napping tuk tuk drives, piles of trash, stray dogs, and the occasional family taking a nap. This is to say, people don’t walk around much. But with this neighborhood renewal, you see more and more people walking, meaning less traffic and congestion in the area.


“So I’m not the model of fitness, obviously, but we can help encourage a more balanced lifestyle.”

There is talk of a bike shop (more on that soon), a possible second location of the Crossfit gym is in the works. But for now, the guys are working to fine-tune the current menu, work with portions and pricing, and reach a wider market beyond the expat community. As of now, about 90% of patrons and members are expats, but the vision is to take it further. They want to the area accessible and attractive to locals, and want to create a different kind of community in Russian Market. They are on their way.

Crossfit Amatak and the Kettlebell Café can be found at #45, street 454 (near corner of street 123) in Tuol Tom Puong, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  Kettlebell is still in it’s soft opening phase and are serving a limited number of plates Monday to Friday and only breakfast on Saturdays.  If you would like to book one of their boxed lunches or reserve a plate, check out the Crossfit Amatak Facebook page everyday!


All photos by Tiffany Tsang. Please request permission for use.

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T / happy monday / that (cross)fitness resolution

We’re back!!!  After a week off, Cait is currently at cruising altitude somewhere around the Arctic on her way back to Asia, and Tiff is nursing a cold she caught in 24°C Cambodia…but who cares, we are so excited for all those new ideas we’ve been brewing through the holidays to get real.  But first, some resolutions!

resolutionsIt was going to happen eventually.  I was going to have to write about it.  That thing that I do five out of seven mornings in a week.  (Except today of all days, when I woke up the sniffles and a very inflated head.)  The conversation topic that eventually builds when two like-fitted individuals get together at just about any venue or event to discuss the morning’s WOD.  And hey, 2015 has just started. Peeps are making resolutions.  So why not a better time to write about that it. Yeah that thing.

wallballs-and-deadliftsI got roped into it around 2013.  My friend Corbett thought I could be doing better.  Well, exercising better.  I was also at the height of frustration with my body.  My late twenties had hit and all of a sudden I couldn’t have a bacon blue cheese burger one night and chicken tikka masala a couple of days later and have my body not give a darn.  The body changes happened seemingly overnight.  My usual work out on the elliptical or tread mill paired with a daily commute on my bicycle wasn’t doing it either.  So Corbett roped me into his bootcamp: a little crossfit-almost activity that we did in the parking lot of a gym in the middle of a residential street in Phnom Penh.

One year later, Corbett got his licenses and certifications together, designed a snazzy little space, recruited the most awesome of coaches and Crossfit Amatak (that’s infinite in Khmer for the rest of you) opened up shop this past summer.  I’ve officially been Crossfitting, with about 70 other Phnom Penhers, since August this year.  And I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon.

Now what is Crossfit?  It’s commonly misunderstood and frequently derided. Women fear getting “too muscly.” Men picture pre-barbarian Arnold Schwarzeneggar.  But this globally loved sport and approach to fitness is probably the least scary exercise (just ignore those grunts).  The risks are just as high in any other sport when you don’t have the right coach.
pull-upsIt is all about high intensity and functional movements. It’s also about friends, fun and support, all in the spirit of fitness through the gymnastic, cardiovascular and endurance activities one grows to love.  The constant striving to reach that personal best.  (I’ve still got my eye on you, strict pull-up.)  At one point (it usually hits after a couple of weeks), you wonder what the heck life was without it.  I don’t think I’ve felt this good in years since getting acclimated to adulthood (ie. turning 30).  We’ve made such good friends and it’s really established a new community in the city.  And the best part – it’s pushed us all to live much healthier lives.

So I thought I’d share this heartwarming little doco on the topic today.  Not just about crossfit, but the wonderful mood and psychosocial impact that exercise can have on anyone.  And remember, it’s not about what you do, it’s that you do it.  Whether it’s yoga, zumba, P90x, marathoning or whatever gets your heart pumping, we can all agree that some form of exercise is more than good for you.  So with the start of 2015, go and give Crossfit a free trial class at your local box (if you’re in Phnom Penh, sign up for a free trial, every Saturday at 10am!).

Group Therapy: a documentary from Rennie Brown on Vimeo.

All photos by J. Corbett Hix. Please request permission for use.

Some more interesting articles:

Not only was a reigning women’s Crossfit champion featured in Vogue, her family name mean’s “daughter of Thor.”

A little bit about Crossfit from a health professional, and breaking some myths about it.

Dr. James Hamblin at The Atlantic conducts a hilarious discourse on picking your fitness cult: crossfit x yoga.

A great little treatise on looking good, feeling good and balancing everything society may expect of you.

Just get up and do something.  Sitting is the new smoking.